Expecting Parents Should Talk to the Older Child About the New Baby

Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

Preparing for a new baby brings joy and excitement, but it can also be a challenging time for a big brother or sister, Linda Inmon, Cooperative Extension Program associate-family and consumer sciences for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. Many changes come with having a new baby, so it is important to involve the older child in the process.

“The change of bringing someone new into your child’s space is difficult for them,” Inmon said. “The space that was once theirs now must suddenly be shared, and it is common for them to become jealous.”

When parents inform the older child of a new baby and involve them in preparations early on, it makes the transition easier, she said. Parents should especially strive to make the older child feel they are involved in creating space for the new baby. Parents can also help ease the transition by talking to their child about what is happening to the baby throughout the pregnancy in terms the child will understand.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the older child’s age and development will affect how he or she reacts to a new sibling. While older children are typically eager to meet a new sibling, younger children might be confused or upset. Parents can use the following tips from the Mayo Clinic to help their child adjust:

  • Children younger than age 2. Young children likely won’t yet understand what it means to have a new sibling. Parents should talk to their child about the new addition to the family, taking time to look at picture books about babies and families together.
  • Children ages 2 to 4. Children at this age are still quite attached to their parents and might feel jealous sharing their attention with a newborn. Parents should read to their older child about babies, brothers and sisters. They can spend time looking at the older child’s baby pictures and discussing the story of his or her birth. Parents can also give the child a doll so that he or she can be a caregiver, too. They can encourage their older child’s involvement in the event by taking him or her shopping for baby supplies.
  • School-age children. Older children might feel jealous of how much attention a new baby gets. Parents can point out the advantages of being older, such as going to bed later. They may also display the older child’s artwork in the baby’s room or ask the older child to help take care of the baby.

“Talk to your child about the events that will take place as you get closer to delivery,” Inmon said. “Explain where the new baby will be born. Let the older child know who will keep them while you are away and tell them when they can expect to meet their sister or brother.”

Parents should not lead their older child to believe the new baby will become someone they can play with as soon as they come home, she said. Instead, they should be honest and explain how babies are a lot of work and that they cry a lot. It is important for the older child to know that babies cannot do anything for themselves. Someone must feed, bath and clothe them and tend to them when they cry.

“Some children may want to help care for the baby in ways such as talking to the baby during diaper changes,” she said. “Other tasks can be given depending on the age and maturity of the child. These tasks may take longer to complete, but this involvement allows the siblings to bond together. And if an older child shows no interest in the baby at first, just give him or her time to adjust to having the baby around.”

Inmon reminds parents to keep regular family routines as much as possible during the transition period.

“Remember to spend time with the older sibling,” she said. “Ask family members and friends to give the older child some attention through regular visits, conversations and even small gifts. This will help remind them that they too are special and are an important part of the family unit.”

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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